French publishers are close to launching a new body to collectively negotiate with online platforms, while the dispute with Google raises fundamental questions on how to monetise online content.
The president of the Institute for Digital Fundamental Rights (IDFR), Jean-Marie Cavada, told lawmakers in the French parliament that the set up of the new collective management organisation (CMO) will be completed in the next month.
The new body, which Cavada will lead, is to be in charge of negotiating with online platforms the remuneration of press publishers under the neighbouring right.
“The statutes [of the CMO] are currently being discussed by the first three founders,” Cavada, a former member of the European Parliament, announced during a parliamentary hearing on Thursday (16 September).
The issue of neighbouring rights has sparked controversy between publishers and online platforms, notably Google, and the media sector has decided to get organised to strengthen its bargaining power. Three of the main trade organisations are launching the CMO, and other publishers might join soon.
“I think I can say that other organisations are about to join,” Cavada said.
France was the first country to transpose the EU’s Copyright Directive in July 2019. The Intellectual Property Code stipulates that news agencies and publishers can claim compensation for the re-use of their journalistic content online platforms, including search engines, such as Google, and social networks, such as Facebook.
However, more than two years after its entry into force, its proper application is still pending.
On 13 July, the French Competition Authority (AdlC) fined Google €500 million for failing to negotiate “in good faith” with press publishers, a decision Google announced it will appeal because it considers that “the fine is disproportionate to our efforts to reach an agreement and comply with the new law.”
Cavada insisted that “when a law is made, it must be applied, and applied well”, finding it inadmissible that “sanctions are a kind of wishful thinking which will very often drag on for years”. He insisted on the need for “the sovereignty of the law, not only in its pronouncement but also in its execution”.
Cavada also suggested that a financial boost from the strategic fund for the development of the press, whose objective is to support innovation projects of press companies, would be welcome for the CMO’s launching.
First mission: “evaluate”
The CMO’s first major task will be to address a fundamental question of the internet economy: evaluate the revenue generated directly or indirectly by press content on platforms.
“Until now, no one has quantified information on the value of this content,” said Joelle Toledano, an economist and member of the National Digital Council (CNNum), during the same parliamentary hearing.
According to Toledano, “we must be able to reduce the asymmetry of information” to regulate properly, stressing nevertheless that “assessing externalities is always very complicated”.
Benjamin Sabbah, a teacher in media economics and member of trade organisation Spiil, said there were a number of unanswered questions.
“Should the formula for calculating the tax base be based on the platforms’ revenues? Can we apply the same formula between social networks and search engines? Should it be based on publishers’ expenses, on their efforts to be present on social networks?” he asked, listing several avenues for reflection.
“It will be essential to be vigilant about these criteria,” Sabbah warned MPs.
Cavada said that “if we look at the extent of the predations, it is probably between 800 million and 1 billion euros that escape the economy of democracy through the press”, considering that Google and Facebook are only the “trees that hide the forest”.
Whatever the amount, he said it would be up to CMO members to propose a tariff for negotiation and not the other way around.
As for the sharing of the cake between the different parties? “We will introduce corrective measures into the distribution of the money obtained from the platforms so that the big ones are the big ones, but not the absolute ones,” Cavada said.
Google, although more visible than others on this issue, will obviously not be the only company involved. AdlC President Isabelle de Silva told a hearing on Wednesday (15 September) that “preliminary exchanges” with other platforms had already begun.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]